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An innumerate marketer begs the new species of click-sniffer to make a bit of an effort and translate your undisputed brilliance into some language other than Klingon or Ithkuil.

If you believe the bloggers (and who doesn't?), marketing departments all over the world are clearing out the desks of their PR, advertising and 'corporate communications' dinosaurs to make room for the new breed of data geek.

On the whole, that’s good, but data is only useful if the lessons it provides can be communicated in terms that people can understand. 

Fizzy trails of data...

No one liked the dinosaurs anyway and we’ve all woken up to some new ideas that those PR guys used to call ‘game changers’:

  • We humans leave a fizzy trail of data in our wake as we surf the digital waves.
  • This data can be captured in large, rusty buckets, evaporated in coiled copper tubing and condensed into the most precious marketing commodity of all: Insight.*
  • When you inject this insight stuff into the veins, arteries, flaps and folds of the Marketing Beast, magical things happen.

    People actually open our emails. And click through to our websites. And (cue Hallelujah Chorus, Mormon Tabernacle Choir version) buy our over-priced kitsch.

  • It takes a special kind of person to design, build and operate these data-distilling contraptions. The kind of person who, until now, could be seen standing around railway stations, scribbling into little notebooks**. Or cornering you at parties to ‘explain’ the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle or alleged Rules of Rugby.***

Weighing the pros and cons****,  we looked at these people who, only a few short years ago, we were beating up on the playground, and hired their asses.

As a result, you can’t get halfway through a meeting before they hijack it with their bloody Omniture dashboards and Radian6/Heroku/Trip Advisor mash-ups*****.

bloody Omniture dashboards

The real skills gap

And this (at long last) brings me to my point:

If there’s a global skills gap crying out for good Data Analysts, there’s an even more urgent skills gap nestled inside it calling for good Data Analysts who speak English.

So this is a plea to everyone who stands between the raw numbers and those baffling sacks of meat called ‘other people’.

Please, please, learn to do these things:

1. Learn to turn a chart into a sentence

Preferably a plain English sentence that includes phrases like, “which means”, “this shows that” or “clearly telling us…”

2. Learn to translate your analysis into recommendations

You’ve shown me that this particular micro-metric is trending up and the other nano-KPI is skewing alarmingly. Now just go that teeny-tiny extra step and tell me why I should care.

3. Dare to dumb it down

The smartest people in the world are invariably the ones who can explain string theory to nine-year-olds or Why Frozen O-Rings Are A Bad Idea In Space Shuttles to congressmen. 

Hint: You’re not smart when you make me feel stupid. You’re smart when you make me smarter.

4. Know when to keep your data to yourself

Every foetal factoid may, to you, seem fascinating. But that doesn't mean it's significant or meaningful, much less actionable.

Keep your powder dry and we'll all be more likely to lean forward (as opposed to topple) when you unfurl your latest scatter-gram.

5. Realise that numbers alone don't fill shopping baskets

Data illuminates. Data indicates. Data informs. But data doesn't drive web visitors to the checkout. Great products propelled by razor-sharp creative fueled by powerful ideas do.

These things are made more intelligent and more effective with the benefit of the insights you deliver. But data on its own is essentially high-octane trivia.

6. Put your data in context

That little nugget of gold you panned from Clickstream Creek is only real gold if you can connect it to our business, our customer and our strategy. If you can’t do that, it’s Fool’s Gold.

7. Bottom line: get to the bottom line

  • Take the shortest possible route.
  • Instead of drenching me in data, drip a concentrated dose of insight straight on to my cornea.
  • Turn pivot tables into prose, spreadsheets into sonatas and nuance into neon.
  • Make the numbers rise up, slap on a pair of Manolos and sing like Whitney Before She Met Bobby.

If you do that, you will become so rich you can hire statisticians to measure the productivity, efficiency and job satisfaction of your statisticians.

If you can do that, I beg you: open a night school where you can teach other socially awkward rocket scientists to do it too.

If you can do that, in the words of Whitney, I will always love you....

* I think this is how it works.

** Yanks: see trainspotting 

*** It’s a trick: not even rugby refs understand the rules of Rugby.

**** Pros: we’ll make shedloads of money; Cons: we’ll have to spend our lunch hours listening to Rain Man drone on about standard deviations, regression to the mean and the relative phenol levels of single malt Scotch (they can ruin anything).

***** Admittedly pretty cool.

Photo: the author during a Google Analytics drill-down session (pizza not even provided).

Doug Kessler

Published 19 March, 2013 by Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler is a founder and Creative Director of B2B marketing agency Velocity and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

19 more posts from this author

Comments (14)

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Barry Adams

Barry Adams, Founder at Polemic Digital

I don't think it's as much an issue of data analysts not speaking plain English, as it's an issue of data analysts not being able to turn all that data in to what Avinash Kaushik calls 'actionable insights'.

Gathering data has become ridiculously easy. Turning that data in to information that can be used to improve websites/services/whatever, now that's a slightly different skillset.

It's not about dumbing things down, or even about forsaking lingo in favour of plain English. It's about gaining insight in to what the data *means*.

over 3 years ago

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Guy Cuthbert

Doug - it sounds like you need a Data Animator rather than more Data Scientists! I spend my life, with my team of data scientists, working on the *human* side of their nature - data only has a value when we 'get it', when we make sense of it and experience that 'Aha' insight. Then we can take action, with our new-found understanding guiding the way.

Good luck on finding other Data Animators... we're a rare breed.

over 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

@Barry: Agreed: it's all about insight & action.

@Guy: I like the idea of a Data Animator. And yes, they're rare indeed...

over 3 years ago

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Brody Dorland

Another major obstacle that I see in this situation is where the analyst's desk is located...meaning, does the data analyst have a office next to all the execs that are making the big decisions? Or does he/she work down by the mail room and is a bit disconnected from the current obstacles that lay ahead. Or-Or is this analyst actually sitting outside of the organization at some third-party marketing/analytics firm and is not immersed enough within the client's business to translate insights into organizational change?

Speaking from personal experience, I'd consider myself someone who does speak English and can quickly find actionable insights. But as an outside consultant, I often don't have enough behind-the-scenes access or historical knowledge of my client's business or market to be able to make strong, correlary arguments to address big issues. I do my best to identify obvious gaping holes or consistent trends that are moving in the wrong direction, but often the client needs to help me connect the dots to some market-specific issue or organizational conundrum that I had no idea existed.

Whether internal or external, someone needs to be looking at the data. Few small companies are going to be able to employ an analyst, so third-party is better than nothing. I think the level of access is key and those organizations who open their vests to smart, business-savvy (not just data savvy) analysts will find much more clarity in whichever language their organization chooses to speak.

over 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Great point, Brody.
An isolated analyst is far less likely to find the insights that matter most.

Maybe the skills outlined in this post would help analysts earn their place at the top table, where they belong.

over 3 years ago

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Ken Munn

Nice piece of writing. And a worthwhile topic. Makes me glad I parted company with a company comprised of 97.8% pure geek a decade back.

over 3 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

That's 2 highly entertaining and useful posts by you I've read in 2 days, Doug. (Other one is here: http://www.velocitypartners.co.uk/our-blog/google-updates-panda-why-i-dont-give-a-shit/ )

Consider yourself followed. However, you haven't shared anything on Google+ (publicly at least) yet.

over 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Thanks Paul.
Much appreciated.

I do share on G+ -- but to my circles. There's a way to share more widely? (I know: I should know this).

And Ken: 97.8%? You're sure you're not one of them? [insert that smiley, winky emoticon thing I can't do]

over 3 years ago

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Guy Cuthbert

@Doug - G+ lets you share to the circle "Public" if you want to broadcast to all... just type 'public' in the share box and go for it..

over 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

D'oh! Thanks for the tip.

over 3 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

@Doug, I believe Google won't follow the links in your posts or index the content unless they're public too. Something like that.

over 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

I'm learning here.

over 3 years ago

Malcolm Duckett

Malcolm Duckett, CEO at Magiq

Doug, I like your style - and as a self-confessed geek I am sadly bound to agree with you (and I think I have probably committed every sin you describe)...
But I think actually it's not "Speaking English" that you want us to do, but "Speaking Business".
We did a deal of work with PaddyPower a few years back (now there IS a company with a sense of humour), and they cracked this problem by shipping their "data analysts" out of some corporate IT/Insight/Geekdom function and dropping them (singly) into the business units - so that they REALLY came to understand what that business unit (sportsbook, gaming etc.) was actually in need of and trying to do; and being "on their own" they could not club together into geek-cliques that giggled at the innumerate marketeers - but had to face up to the real issues, and deliver solutions (answers) that worked, and while they probably DID include the odd regression, it was nicely covered by a bar-chart made of stacked, fluffy teddy-bears, and no-one was too frightened!
The other point, is that we sell to PEOPLE, so counting/targeting/measuring unique visitors or hits or cookies or pages or clicks or impressions is all pretty pointless – and that's why the Web Analytics chart above is never going to help...

over 3 years ago

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler, Director at VelocitySmall Business Multi-user

Thanks Malcolm.
I can tell you were one of the communicating geeks.

And you're right: it's not about English. It's about business.

over 3 years ago

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